From followers spring leaders. Just don’t do it that way.

Then just don’t hold it that way.

Ah, the immortal words of Steve Jobs referring to the iPhone 4 antenna performance problem just two months ago.

Imagine if that were the response from a manager about an employee’s failed performance on a specific activity (which I’m sure too many employees can imagine).

“Well, what do you recommend I do then?”

“Just don’t do it that way.”

“Really?”

[Crickets chirping]

What’s with leaders and power these last few millennia? I highly recommend that you read The Power Trip by Jonah Lehrer, a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal.

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

That’s a problem, but not one I’m tackling in this post. There is good news about leadership, though.

The ability to forge social connections and engage in “diplomacy” is often much more important.

I want to talk about being a follower and the symbiotic relationship between follower and leader and how the “diplomacy” is key.

Because from followers leaders do spring. And maybe if we can encourage more of our followers to become empowered — then look out.

Think about these questions and comments:

Do you allow followers to manage themselves well?

Do senior team members help each other to be more effective leaders?

Does your organization have collaborative leadership relationships?

Do individual contributors in your organization take risks by speaking openly and candidly to leaders?

Do people in your organization feel safe to speak the truth?

When there is mutual trust and respect, individual contributors are free to interact openly and candidly with leaders. Regardless of position or title, sometimes people are leaders and sometimes they are followers.

Have you created an emotionally and socially intelligent workplace where leaders and followers are energized by developing trusting leader-follower relationships?

Below are four qualities that must exist in order to answer YES to the questions above.

Followers Must:

  • Lead themselves well. The key to being effective as a follower is that followers must see themselves as equals to the leaders they follow. They must be able, intellectually and emotionally, to function as a colleague.
  • Committed to a higher purpose. Followers must work towards the purpose of the organization, and to certain principles and values outside of themselves. If there is not an alignment of values, they may withdraw or leave entirely.
  • Build their strengths. Followers must have high standards of performance and be continually learning and updating their skills and abilities.
  • Take risks. Followers are credible, honest and have the courage to speak up. They share credit with colleagues and also admit mistakes. They are willing to take risks and keep leaders informed.

In today’s flatter, more agile organizations, both leaders and followers must be able to work side by side as colleagues to be successful.

So if you’re stuck in an old hierarchical model, just don’t do it that way. Right?


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